Six feared dead after heavy rains in Eastern Cape

Brave young hero fails to rescue fellow pupil from raging river


In an act of bravery and with a complete disregard for his own safety, an Eastern Cape high school pupil jumped into raging waters to try to save a fellow pupil who was swept away while crossing a flooded river on Monday.

Olwethu Lamla, a grade 11 pupil at Pangalele Senior Secondary in Mabhetshe village in rural Ngqeleni, was unable to save grade 11 pupil Khanyisa Mdlangazi, 17, who was swept away by the Nkawukazi River separating Mabhetshe and the neighbouring KwaZaka village on Monday afternoon.

Mdlangazi is among six people feared dead after heavy rains hit the province on Monday.

Also in Ngqeleni, the body of Zosuliwe Maqhubela, a grade 9 pupil at Mayibenye Junior Secondary, was retrieved a few metres from where strong currents had pulled her under while she tried to cross the flooding Phompo River near Elusizini village.

OR Tambo district municipality spokesperson Zimkhita Macingwane confirmed a pregnant woman and young child were killed in a Libode village when their house collapsed on them.

When a Dispatch team visited KwaZaka on Tuesday, more than 100 villagers, including Mdlangazi’s father, siblings and close relatives, were scouring the banks of the Nkawukazi River for any sign of her body.

Among them was Lamla, who had tried to save the girl from drowning. Sporting bruises on his knees, face and upper body, the 20-year-old said he had been walking from school on Monday afternoon when he saw Mdlangazi trying to cross.

“She jumped in and was immediately pulled downstream by the current. I jumped in to try to save her. I managed to grab her, but we were both swept away by the currents. After a while, I could tell she was no longer conscious and I had to let her go to save myself from drowning,” he said.

Exhausted from the effort, Lamla managed to grab onto reeds in the river and haul himself out of the water.

Mdlangazi’s jersey was found more than a kilometre downstream on Tuesday morning.

[pullquote]They must bring in divers. We want our child found so I can bury her next to the graves of her grandfathers[/pullquote]

Her distraught father said: “They must bring in divers. We want our child found so I can bury her next to the graves of her grandfathers.”

Another relative, Nomtente Menze, said they had given up hope of her being found alive. “It [finding her body] would help bring comfort,” he said.

Police reportedly arrived to help with the frantic search on Monday afternoon, but left after promising to bring in divers on Tuesday. However, by 11am they had not yet arrived.

Menze said they were hugely disappointed in the police for failing to show up. He said they did not know how they would bury the girl as no-one in the family was employed.

Mdlangazi was originally from Nomadolo, a neighbouring village, but was renting a room in KwaZaka.

The head of KwaZaka, Zamuxolo Lamla, said this was the third drowning in the river in recent years, adding: “We have been asking government to build a bridge over the river.”

Maqhubela’s devastated father, Zeblon Maqhubela, said she had been trying to cross the Phompo River with two other girls when she was swept away.

A village search ensued on Monday and her body was recovered less than a kilometre from where she had tried to cross.

“We are devastated about losing our child. We don’t know how we are going to bury her,” he said. He said his daughter had dreamt of one day studying law.

Macingwane said a bridge had been washed away in Coffee Bay in the KSD municipality and several roads were damaged in Nyandeni.

Several homes were flooded in Port St Johns on Monday and some affected people were housed at a local community hall overnight.

OR Tambo district mayor Mesuli Ngqondwana expressed heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased. He said disaster teams remained on high alert.

People can report incidents on 047-501-6494 or 047-501-6584.

Amathole district municipality spokesperson Nonceba Madikizela Vuso said two men, aged 19 and 20, from Kantolo village in Centane were believed to have drowned on Saturday evening after attempting to cross the overflowing Khobonqaba River while returning home from a neighbouring village.

Search and rescue teams had not yet recovered their bodies.